Almost exactly a year ago to the day I spoke to James Dyke about progress towards solving the climate crisis. He is co-author of a recently-published article entitled Concept of Net Zero is a Dangerous Trap. I thought it was time to invite him back.

Dr James Dyke is Assistant Director of the Global Systems Institute, and Programme Director of the MSc Global Sustainability Solutions at the University of Exeter, UK. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the European Geophysical Union and serves on the editorial board of the journal Earth System Dynamics. 

We spoke last time about building back better after the pandemic. This time our discussions ranged from Chelsea tractors to carbon sinks in the Arctic and the Amazon, the mystery of the missing methane (missing from the stats, that is, there’s too much of it in the atmosphere), why injecting sulphuric acid into the stratosphere might be a good idea and why it might not be. We reflected that peat takes centuries to form and only days to destroy, and asked why fossil fuel companies like selling fossil fuels. (Spoiler alert: it makes them rich.) I asked, when the science is disregarded, denied, disputed, even distorted, why don’t scientists speak up? And are the politicians right in saying that we’re on track to meet the Paris Agreement and meet Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050? Yes, they say, but they are probably crossing their fingers behind their backs.

What do we do now? This is what James Dyke told me.

Anthony Day:

Well, thanks again for taking part in a chat with the Sustainable Futures Report.

James Dyke:

No worries.

Anthony Day:

It's, it's really interesting that we were talking almost exactly a year ago, 10th of May last year.

James Dyke:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anthony Day:

And you were cosignatory to another letter with, again, with Wolfgang Knorr,

James Dyke:

Yeah.

Anthony Day:

Amongst others. When you were talking about a statement from Fatih Birol , who is the General Secretary or President of the International Energy Agency. He was talking about building back green. And, you were saying, "Well,

"...if we actually maintain the reduced levels of carbon emissions that we've seen during lockdown, it won't make any difference at all, because they're relatively small.”

James Dyke:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anthony Day:

BECCS

Okay. Then when we had our discussion, you were talking about carbon capture and storage and particularly about BECCS, which is bioenergy with carbon capture, storage and sequestration.

James Dyke:

Yep.

Anthony Day:

And how that could be a negative technology. And actually, if we capture the carbon from the combustion process, then the, the trees would absorb carbon. And therefore we would have a net reduction in carbon in the atmosphere, which sounded like a great idea.

James Dyke:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anthony Day:

But now we come a year forward and there's another letter that you're co signatory to. And one of the things in that is that you believe that BECCS is not going to solve the, solve the problem.

James Dyke:

Probably not. No.

Anthony Day:

Where do we go from here?

James Dyke:

"I guess you've got to stop burning fossil fuels. That's where we've always had to be."

I guess you've got to stop burning fossil fuels. It's that. That's where we've got. That's where we've always had to be.

Anthony Day:

Yes, yes,

Anthony Day:

Yes. But it's going to be so difficult. Isn't it? I mean, I've been talking to people who say, oh, we are going to have to get rid of our petrol cars from 2030. Actually the rule, the ruling at the moment is we're going to have to stop selling petrol cars, but people will be allowed, as things stand to continue to run them.

James Dyke:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anthony Day:

For as long as they'll run. But I think the truth is if we're going to achieve net zero, we are actually going to have to eliminate the use of fossil fueled cars amongst other things, probably as early as 2030.

James Dyke:

Yeah.

"Transport emissions in the UK have been really quite depressing."

The performance is there's always been, I mean, we've had the technology to produce energy efficient cars for decades. There's no reason why you can't buy petrol vehicles, when it gives you 70, 100, 120 miles per gallon.

Anthony Day:

Hmm.

James Dyke:

But transport sector emissions have been rising, because cars have not been like that. Even the brand new hybrids, they're still not very efficient. I mean maybe 40 miles to the gallon or something. Cars have been getting bigger. They've been very aggressively marketed, to appeal, to people's sense of, well, there's a whole bunch of status and social signaling set around cars.

Anthony Day:

What is the SUV [crosstalk 00:03:09].

James Dyke:

Numbers of cars, we're multiple car households as well, there's more cars, there's bigger cars. There's more energy being consumed by cars. And there's more emissions coming from cars.

Anthony Day:

Yeah, I think it's to do with a lot of people going for these SUV's, which are enormous. I saw a review of a Range Rover. It said, "from 93,000 pounds. I mean, who on Earth needs to spend 93,000 pounds. But apart from that, it's a two and a half ton vehicle.

James Dyke:

Hmm.

Anthony Day:

And just moving all that metal takes a vast amount of fuel. Doesn't it?

James Dyke:

Indeed. Yeah. When you think about your you're moving something on the order of a hundred kilograms, you don't need 2,500 to move it, right?

Anthony Day:

Yeah, yeah.

James Dyke:

But there's also this sense of being defended from wider society in these vehicles. You're up, up above everybody looking down, you're surrounded by, not just roll cage, but all this, all this mass, all this, all this metal, it's a very kind of adversarial sort of relationship you've got with the rest of the other road users.

Anthony Day:

Yeah. Yes. Oh, it's a behavioral change as much as anything, isn't it?

James Dyke:

Hmm. Yeah. You know, they have been really aggressively marketed.

Anthony Day:

Yes. Yes. And in the UK, in particular, it's not helped by the fact that

"...there's been a freeze on petrol duty for 10 years."

James Dyke:

Yeah. That's something that the chancellor always manages to duck. No one's, yet had the courage to put that one up.

Anthony Day:

Yeah. Oh, well, well yes. Carbon capture and storage or carbon capture anyway. Is the Amazon close to becoming a carbon source because it's under a lot of the attack at the moment.

James Dyke:

"There's been some reports about the Amazon is becoming a carbon source rather than carbon sink."

Well, if you look at deforestation, so there's been some reports about the Amazon is becoming a carbon source rather than carbon sink. A lot of that is based on land use, change and deforestation in the Amazon. So the Amazon holds billions of tons of carbon and in the trees and also in the soils and the other understory vegetation. If you cut that down and burn it, obviously you're going to immediately release the carbon back into the atmosphere.

James Dyke:

There's been some research which has been looking at the potential for the soils, not just in the Amazon, but soils in other terrestrial eco systems to start emitting, start to kind of out gassing carbon dioxide as a consequence of increased temperatures, because it changes the, kind of the microbial ecosystems and the whole bio geochemical cycling.

Anthony Day:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

James Dyke:

There doesn't seem to be any indication that we're near any kind of tipping point in that respect. So I think we're still in the situation where the biggest risks we've got to terrestrial carbon sinks are from land use change, and predominantly deforestation. You know, one of the reasons why we are still undertaking so much deforestation in the Amazon, particularly the Brazilian Amazon and other forested areas in Brazil is for agriculture, chopping down the trees for cattle ranching, or maybe producing soy, which is used for cattle feed.

Anthony Day:

Yeah. Yeah. And, what about the Arctic ,where the permafrost is melting? Is that becoming a source?

James Dyke:

There is some out gassing. So there's been discussions about possible tipping points in the thawing of the permafrost, because there's the permafrost thaws, it's going to release significant amounts of methane, which is going to increase warming more, which is going to lead to more permafrost thaw. There doesn't seem to be any indication that we are, either past that tipping point or approaching that tipping point. But it's one of the tipping elements in the, in the climate system, in terms of its overall contribution to the amount of anthropogenic warming. I can't remember, it's not particularly large, but there have been some worrying indications that the amount of methane total methane that humans have been producing either through industrial or land use changes, seems to be larger than it should be. So there's some monitoring, there's some sensing data which seems to be showing these elevated emissions of methane.

James Dyke:

And at the moment, I think we're still trying to scramble around to actually understand where that methane is coming from. I don't think it's necessarily related to permafrost thaw. It could be from oil and gas exploration itself.

Anthony Day:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

James Dyke:

"There's an awful lot of out gassing of methane from when you're doing things like fracking or just extracting fossil gas."

So there's an awful lot of out gassing of methane from when you're doing things like fracking or just extracting fossil gas. So, when we, I mean it, and it's also interesting when you're thinking about the permafrost, because it's not just carbon dioxide that we need to get a grip on, there's other greenhouse gases, such as methane, such as nitrous, which come more from the, kind of the land use side of things.

Anthony Day:

Right. Okay. Looking at carbon sinks, kelp sea grass, mangroves, peat, they're all supposed to be significant carbon sinks. Peat is under threat in certain places as are all the others, but what scope is there actually for regenerating things like kelp and mangroves and sea grass?

James Dyke:

Well, peat's a good one because there's loads of carbon stored in it. It takes centuries to, to form and days to destroy.

Anthony Day:

Yes.

James Dyke:

"So there's one thing we should all do is just not use any peat based compost."

So there's one thing we should all do is just not use any peat based compost. That'd be a very quick and easy win. In terms of recovery and increasing or spinning up natural carbon sinks. Then there's a lot of excitement around things like sea grass and kelp, marine aquaculture, algae and kelp arrays. So ,as you know, kelp grows really, really quickly and it can sequester an awful lot of carbon. So, there's a number of different projects which could consist of putting kind of arrays, which you would submerge, maybe 20 meters under the surface of the sea and on that you would plant kelp. And then you would have these deep tubes that would go down into the depths of the ocean.

James Dyke:

Maybe another a hundred meters or so, and wave action would move the tubes up and down. And through that, you would be pumping up colder, nutrient rich water, where the kelp is growing. And when you do the maths and you look at the amount of carbon that the kelp could sequester and the available space that you've got on the continental shelves, then you could see that something like that could perhaps, make quite a significant contribution to increasing the natural or at least the, kind of the biological carbon sinks and ditto when it comes to sea grass.

James Dyke:

But I suppose one thing that we need to bear in mind when I think about these kinds of technologies or proposals is the easiest thing that we've got, in terms of options right now is to stop destroying the natural carbon sinks that we already have. So, the deforestation and the peat and the mangroves and the existing encroaching development into sea grass, bottom ocean trawling, things like this in terms of the marine ecosystems. So, if you do that at the same time as spinning up new sources of carbon sinks, then we should be in a much better position.

Anthony Day:

Okay. If we though are to regenerate, these sinks, we could call them natural geoengineering perhaps, but there are other much more technical geoengineering techniques like global dimming, like carbon capture from the atmosphere. What do you see as the prospects and the risks, perhaps, of things like that.

James Dyke:

Yeah. At the moment, there's a bit of a, a demarcation or a differentiation between things that we can do to help the natural carbon cycle on its way. For example, by planting more trees and then the much more over manipulation of the Earth's energy budget. So, it's the latter which we typically call geoengineering. And of those techniques, solar radiation management seems to be the most promising one or the one that's getting the most attention in terms of research. And the idea there, is that we would mimic the impacts of volcanism. So every now and again, a large volcano erupts, and when it does it spews out a lot of ash, but also a lot of sulfur. And that gas and particulate matter can be injected right up into the Earth's stratosphere. At which point, then it gets globally distributed through the high altitude winds. And all the sulfur, basically forms, a kind of sulfuric acid forms, very, very fine droplets of sulfuric acid, which are very reflective, the tiny little shiny beads, this kind of mist.

James Dyke:

"We will load maybe a fleet of something like five or 10,000 jumbo jets with sulfuric acid."

So when there are these large volcanoes, for example, Pinatubo in the 1990s, you'll see a global reduction in temperatures. I mean, it's measurable, you know, maybe a couple of a tenths of a degree or something. So, the idea is rather than wait for a volcano to erupt, what we will do, we will load maybe a fleet of something like five or 10,000 jumbo jets with sulfuric acid. We would modify them so they can fly up as high as they possibly can, approaching the stratosphere. And then we would inject that directly into the air that would form the kind of sulfuric acid particulate matter that would go across the most of the surface of the Earth, depending on where you inject it. And that could reduce temperatures almost instantly by maybe half a degree, maybe even more. So ,that could buy us a certain amount of time.

James Dyke:

For example, if we saw a tipping point being activated, if we saw temperatures rapidly increase because of perhaps melting permafrost or the collapse of some kind of, ice sheet, or maybe even the die back of the Amazon. Then we would be able to directly interfere with the Earth's climate to bring the temperature back down. Now, of course, there's going to be a whole bunch of problems with that because that's going to do nothing to address ocean acidification because you're not trying to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.

James Dyke:

You're just literally trying to shield the Earth from the energy that the sun emits. You're going to be disrupting rain patterns.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

So, I'm involved in tangentially involved in a project that is looking at the potential disruption of rainfall in places such as let's say, India or other regions, where they have important monsoons. You're going to see impacts on other aspects of terrestrial vegetation because you're going to be reducing the amount of energy that reaches the surface of the planet. So at the moment, there's an awful lot of question marks and risks and hazards. So, I think most people you talk to, they kind of get a little bit freaked out about solar, radiation management. It's an active area of research, and it's certainly going to be ,only going to increase over the next few years.

Anthony Day:

Presumably, it could lead to political conflict? Because if one country puts these things up into the stratosphere and the rain patterns change to the detriment of another country, then that's going to lead to an awful lot of discontent, if not hostility and even warfare. And I don't know.

James Dyke:

Yeah. So how are we? So there's some, that I can't remember the, the details, there is an, I think it's under the auspices of the UNFCCC, but it's about the regulation, governance of, for example, solar radiation management. How would you do it? Who decides how you do it?

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

Where would you do it?

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

Because you could end up with a situation where you would, would, you would undertake SRM to reduce temperatures in continental North America. But in doing that, you're going to have a devastating impact in the monsoon in India, let's say, right?

Anthony Day:

Yeah. Yeah.

James Dyke:

Or that you see CRM being deployed specifically to try to reduce the, the lethality of heat waves in India, but then that's going to have impacts somewhere else in the globe.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

It's really, really difficult to think because it's not going to be a uniform process. It depends entirely on where it it, where the gases are injected and what time and how much. And so all these questions, we just don't know. Right. But if they're going to be serious about it, if they want, if they want geoengineering or this particular version of geoengineering to be a quiver, an arrow in their quiver rather.

Anthony Day:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

James Dyke:

All these questions are going to have to be sorted out pretty darn soon. I would suggest,

Anthony Day:

Do you think they're going to discuss it at G7 or is that just off the agenda at the moment?

James Dyke:

I don't know. I mean, the, I understand the primary objective G7 is to be, what can we do to continue business as usual, whether that's net zero or geoengineering or whatever it is. The name of the game is to keep the show on the road. If I can, if I can say it like that. Climate change represents an existential threat to our civilization. But, I think in the first instance, it represents an existential threat to the bottom line of businesses and profits.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

And continuing economic growth,

Anthony Day:

Existing businesses, perhaps because everybody is saying that there are opportunities for the economic growth, well, let's not say growth, but economic activity and jobs from green and sustainable industries. I mean, do you subscribe to that view?

James Dyke:

"If you have to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and there's going to be hundreds of thousands of people who work in the fossil fuel industry, who will need something to do."

Well, I think, yeah, I don't know if anyone could really not, because if you think about it, if we leave, if you have to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and there's going to be hundreds of thousands of people who work in the fossil fuel industry, who will need something to do.

Anthony Day:

Yes.

James Dyke:

At the same time, we're going to need to ramp up the deployment of solar, wind, wave, other kinds of renewables. And so a large number or a significant fraction of those people ,who will no longer have work, have got the skills, understanding, experience to be able to make a positive contribution. But that's, I mean, I suppose in one respect, that's kind of looking at the problem in a rather, well, I tend to look at it in a rather naive way. Really the problem that we've got in terms of politics is that those organizations such as fossil fuel majors make an awful lot of money by burning fossil fuels.

James Dyke:

And they want to continue to make an awful lot of money by burning fossil fuels. That's why, you know, the energy majors have been the long-term champions of delay. They funded think tanks. They funded organizations, political organizations. I mean, just look at the state of politics in the United States.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

Because they don't want to stop making an awful lot of money. They don't want to stop having a lot of power and influence. And whilst, from a kind of a civilization context, you can see it doesn't really matter. If we make money through oil and gas, or we make money through wind and wave and solar. At the moment, you've got some of the most powerful organizations who just see it as a way in which they're going to lose power, wealth, and influence. And so, we've got to get over that bump somehow. We've got to, I suppose, ultimately confront that power.

Anthony Day:

Yeah. Yes, yes. Now let me take you back to the letter that was written in 2020. Down to the bottom, it said, "In this story, it is always five to midnight. It's always the last chance to prevent disaster". Now, David Attenborough's said more or less exactly that in his latest book, Alok Sharma said that as he took over the chairmanship of COP 26. Bill Gates says that in his latest book, I think it must be four minutes to midnight by now, but we're a year on. Where are we going? What are we, what are we going to do?

James Dyke:

Well, I think it's past midnight now. I think we can say conclude that in terms of, let's say in terms of our ability to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which was meant to be the outcome of Paris.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

I don't think anyone can plausibly argue that's (1.5 degrees) going to happen anymore. Right?

Anthony Day:

Well, in any case, the agreement at Paris was never going to achieve 1.5. Was it?

James Dyke:

Well, I mean, what Paris sought to do was to put that line in the sand and it was really important. And it said, previously we agreed, international community agreed that two degrees Celsius represents dangerous warming, but the two degrees Celsius was always a sort of, a compromise really. And what Paris managed to do was to essentially listen to the global developing south, which said, well, 1.5 is actually dangerous for us.

James Dyke:

I mean, some nations will literally be under water when you go beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. So that was really important that we updated this notion of what represents dangerous climate change. Of course, what Paris couldn't do or what Paris didn't do was the kind of radical change, the radical de-carbonization that will be required for 1.5. Because when you look at just how small the budget is, even back in 2015, anything short of really quite bold radical action, just would have been insufficient. What happened of course, is just like what's happened over the previous 30 years, we just kind of kicked the can down the road and made a whole bunch of mid-century aspirations, targets, promises, and pledges without really grappling with what needed to be done.

Anthony Day:

Okay. There's been a certain amount of discussion, controversy about the role of the scientists, the scientists, seeing themselves as the people who provide the facts and leave others to act on them. And yet, as facts are increasingly ignored or misquoted, or simply perverted, there is, talk that scientists should stand up and promote their message. And not wait for governments or anybody else, to do it. But that would be a radical change. And there's a fear that scientists would be risking their impartiality. It's a dilemma, isn't it? Where do you stand on that?

James Dyke:

"There's this invisible line that many scientists or academics are not willing to step across,"

It is a big dilemma and there's this invisible line that many scientists or academics are not willing to step across, which is the line that separates their academic practice with what they consider to be activism.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

James Dyke:

The classic example is Jim Hansen, who was the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for space studies. Who within a year, went from being the leader of that institution to basically being, well being arrested outside the U S white house because of his protest against climate change, protest against the continued inaction of the U S government. So many scientists involved in climate science don't want to step across that line. They don't want to do because they don't want to undermine their sense of impartiality. They don't want to undermine the sense of trust that society puts on scientists. I mean, when you look at the professions that society, most trusts, medics and scientists are typically up there, right?. Right at the bottom there's, there's the estate agents and politicians, right?

Anthony Day:

Journalists.

James Dyke:

Well, I mean, journalists are a little bit better than the estate agents. But the reason that society trusts scientists is because scientists just speak about the science.

James Dyke:

They don't try and spin it. They don't try and say, they don't try and go beyond the science. So there's an awful lot of reticence from scientists, from academics to not put your head above the parapet, really and state the things that you wouldn't necessarily be able to say would be grounded on your scientific research.

James Dyke:

"...the kind of the risk that comes from not speaking out..."

But there's, there's an additional risk, which is the kind of the risk that comes from not speaking out about things that, you know are not true or, you know are true. And almost hiding behind the sense of impartiality and objectivity. And it's a potentially technical thing to discuss. But one thing that scientists working in the climate arena, typically don't talk about are many of the sort of non-scientific assumptions that are baked into a lot of climate policies, the kind of the economic assumptions, the assumptions about how societies are meant to operate. And that's a kind of a broader assumption about, what's the role of academics? What's the role of scientists to the climate policy debate. And at the moment, I think it's, it's actually dangerously narrow. It's a very, very thin way in which academics and scientists are meant to contribute to this sort of climate policy forum. And in that respect, they might be doing society, a grave disservice.

Anthony Day:

Yeah. What are your hopes for COP 26?

James Dyke:

Assuming it happens. And I think it will.

Anthony Day:

Good.

James Dyke:

The whole point of COP 26, is it's meant to ratchet up, meant to see a leap forward and ambition in terms of these nationally determined contributions. So the thing that came out of the Paris agreement was that every country was meant to declare how it's going to decarbonize at a rate, which is going to be compatible with, that 1.5 and that gets bundled up as nationally declared contributions. And they're meant to be updated on a regular basis. And COP 26 is meant to be, the conference of the parties. Number 26, in which all the nations come to the table and show that they're making really significant strides. So that's, sort of behind the recent announcements from the United Kingdom on increasing its climate ambition. And also to a certain extent, the announcements from the Biden administration about, it's going to be ramping up its ambition.

James Dyke:

They're trying to signal that they are increasing their ambition, and they're trying to get other nations, Australia, China, the other major developed and industrialized nations, India as well to step up to the plate. If you ask me what's going to happen, I would assume that, that's not going to be achieved. There's not going to be the transformative increase in ambition. We're still going to be looking at something like three degrees in terms of policy pledges by the end of this century. And so I guess it's going to be a little bit more kicking the can down the road until the next major conference of the parties.

Anthony Day:

That's a bit depressing, really isn't it? But it may well be realistic. So let's step back and say, well, let's take it for granted that we are actually not going to get below three degrees in terms of consequences for us and from other people in the world. What's that going to look like, I mean, let's, let's take 2050 as, as our viewpoint, assuming that we are up to three degrees by 2050, what is the world going to look like?

James Dyke:

Well, I certainly don't. Well, I certainly hope that we wouldn't see something like three by 2050, right? That would be, that would be catastrophic. That would be. So when we, when we look at, so when we look at, so this is where it gets interesting ,because in the moment we've got, what have emissions been doing historically? So the first thing you want to do when you, when you're looking at trying to understand the system, you look at the trend, we try and put a line through the data. And the nice thing about our global carbon emissions is they're pretty constant. You know, they've been increasing to about 2 or 3% annually and you can just fit a line through it, right? And so if you continue to do that, then you end up with what was called 'the business as usual' scenario, where you've got something like 5 degrees Celsius warming by the end of this century.

James Dyke:

Now that would require for us to continue to burn significant amounts of coal. Even when the global temperature was going past two, three or four. And at some point the global, our global industrialized civilization would begin to fall apart. So arguably we couldn't really ever get, we couldn't really, ever burn all the coal that we, could because our industrial base would start to fall apart. But, that business as usual scenario is about atmospheric concentrations. And when you begin to look at what tipping points might do, how we might go from sources to sinks, from sinks to sources, rather in, rainforests or, the permafrost, then you could begin to see how we could, might be able to inadvertently pump up carbon dioxide, concentration such that they're 5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. And then that's game over. I don't think anyone's going to disagree.

James Dyke:

"We might be heading somewhere around 3 degrees"

If you look at what we are promising to do, not what we're actually doing, but the kind of promises as captured by these nationally determined contributions, then we might be heading somewhere around 3. Maybe if you squint, you could say maybe two and a half, with a fair wind, right? But let's say about, about 3 degrees Celsius. With quite a wide spread, we could be lucky with climate sensitivity and people might get their act together faster. We might be a bit unlucky with sensitivity and tipping points, and it might be a bit warmer. Even if we shoot for 2 degrees, let's say, it's still not impossible that we could end up with four, just because of the way in which, these, these are random processes. So, if we were on course for, let's say 3, middle of the road, by the end of this century, you're most probably going to see significant regions of the tropics uninhabitable.

James Dyke:

I mean, there just won't be people living there, really. Some people argue, well, they could, but they'd have to live underground. Okay, well, ignore. These are serious arguments I've had from economists. They push back against this idea of climate determinism, right? But it would be a massive disruption. So there'll be significant numbers of people on the move or not, or even perish through increased heat waves and wildfires and storms. So we might even see the global population lower than it is today. Economic impacts such would mean that the global economy would probably be smaller than is today. And that's contrary to some kind of mainstream economic modeling. We could see already, significant retreat of the Amazon. There won't be any coral reefs. I mean, they're not, I mean, we've lost all the coral reefs already, to be honest, by the, by the middle of the end of this century, almost irrespective of what we do in terms of de-carbonization, they're gone.

James Dyke:

"There's going to be the greening of the Arctic and the greening of high latitudes."

There's going to be the greening of the Arctic and the greening of high latitudes. So maybe a kind of a, a natural move towards these higher latitudes. But along with, the absolute amount of change what's going to be crucial is the rate of change. If we were going to look at 3 degrees, Celsius, warming above pre-industrial levels, but it might take hundreds or even a thousand years, then human societies would be able to adapt and species would be able to adapt. And, the problem with anthropogenic climate change is just, the sheer rate of change. You struggle to see, when the Earth's system last experienced, warming this fast or climate change this fast. I mean, it's much, much faster even from the glacials or interglacials. So ,if you're looking at where we're currently heading, it's going to be a major disruption of our civilization. It's going to produce the impoverishment of millions and maybe even the deaths of millions of people as well.

Anthony Day:

So, not a very optimistic prospect. Really. We have to continue to do everything we possibly can to slow things down, to delay those sorts of things as far as we possibly can.

James Dyke:

Yes, but unfortunately, what seems to be happening is that there's increasing reliance on what these kind of carbon dioxide removal technologies or these negative emissions technologies. So, what politicians are increasingly doing is playing a game, whereby they are not doing what we need to do in order to limit warming to more than 1.5, but at the same time, saying they're doing everything they need to do to limit one point to limit to 1.5, by invoking future negative emissions or future carbon dioxide removal, technologies that would come online sometime around the middle of this century.

James Dyke:

"[Politicians] produce a much kind of rosier picture of where we currently are"

So when they do that, they produce a much kind of rosier picture of where we currently are. So, rather than come out and saying, you know what, we really messed up here. And nothing short than radical action is going to limit to no more than 1.5. They can with a straight face, say, we are on course for a Paris compliant de-carbonization, Paris is still in reach. We're still going to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius ,without then actually explaining what does that mean? Cause what they really mean is a really large overshoot and us having to suck out tens of billions, of tons of carbon dioxide every year within a few decades.

Anthony Day:

The end of your latest letter said, "the time for wishful thinking is over".

James Dyke:

Yes, but don't underestimate how many people are, or how, how many people, including how much of academia is vested in this story, right? Nobody wants to say we failed. Nobody wants to say our climate policy system failed. It failed to limit warming to no more than 1.5. It failed to limit to no more than 2. It's, because, and I completely understand why people don't want to say it's failed. They don't want to say it's failed because the assumption is that you will then just fall back to defeatism, despair, and doomism, and also potentially dangerous form of isolationism and nationalism. If you tell people that dangerous climate change is inevitable, and it's all going to hit the fan within a couple of decades, then you're potentially empowering some very, very dark forces who would then conclude, "Okay, well, let's make sure we ensure our country's energy security, our country's food and water security".

James Dyke:

"Make sure we keep out this flood of people who are going to be fleeing from the tropics", right? It's a very, very dark and scary place, but there was this middle way. And actually, there still is. And the middle way, is the same, is to accept that we failed to limit warming to no more than 1.5. There's just no budget left, but there is everything to do with regards to how we go forward with the de-carbonization opportunities that we've got. I mean, what's so maddening about the situation is that we don't need to invent something like nuclear fusion. We don't need to produce some, wonder technology. We have all the solutions, we have all the answers, right? We know exactly what we need to do to decarbonize. And we've known for years. What we lack is the ambition and the bravery to actually do it.

James Dyke:

"...Politicians will only ever propose policies, that they can see being popular..."

Now we point our fingers at politicians and rightly so, but politicians will only ever propose policies, that they can see being popular within that particular electoral cycle. No politician is going to stand up and say, I'm going to make you all poorer by 10% in all to avoid catastrophe in a hundred years.

James Dyke:

No one's going to vote for that rule, just embedded in the short termism. But here, academia has a really important role to play. I mean, if it's not academics, who could imagine, future sustainable worlds then who else is it meant to be? I mean we're literally meant to be paid, to sit around all day and think stuff up. You know, we're not meant to be bound by what's possible politically.

James Dyke:

So academics has certainly equipped and armed politicians with a whole range of solutions that go beyond classical kind of economic theory that might even entertain ideas of, degrowing the economy or thinking about reducing the amount of energy and materials that we consume in order to provide them with a really firm evidential base of what we could do in order to avert catastrophe. Unfortunately, what happens too often is that academics get constrained in to providing just a very small arena of expertise, which is essentially keep, keep the show on the road, keep economic growth trundling on 2 or 3% what it needs to be globally. Keep ensuring that we're going to consume more energy and materials. Keep ensuring that we're going to destroy more biodiversity, keep ensuring that we're going to produce more pollution.

James Dyke:

And that's just perpetuating the same dysfunctional system that has repeatedly failed to do what's required for 30 years. So, there is this middle way, but it means we have to be a lot, braver, politically, but I would also argue in terms of academics, academics have to stand up and be really clear about what is possible, rather than playing this kind of fantasy game. Which is basically, 'don't worry, everything's okay. Nothing really has to change. We'll fix it. We'll fix it. It'll be okay on the night'. And that's just not true. It's just not true. And I know many academics know it's not true, but they continue to play the game.

Anthony Day:

James, thank you very much for a wide range of fascinating insights. I'm very grateful to you, for coming back after our conversation last year. And I'm going to put it in my diary to call you up in a year's time and maybe you'll have written another letter by then, but thank you again. That's that's been really interesting.

James Dyke:

Well, Thanks for having me along. It's been, I always enjoy these discussions and I think we should definitely pencil this in for another 12 months.

 

James Dyke from the University of Exeter. 

Next week I’m recording a panel discussion on The Nuclear Option, an analysis of whether nuclear power has a place in the low-carbon energy mix of the future. That should go out on Friday 14th.

That’s all for this week. There are so many stories I could cover, but this is already one of the longer episodes. I try and share the most interesting stories I find, so do follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter and there is a Sustainable Futures Report FB page. I’m planning to create a presence on Instagram as well.

Before I go, my thanks to my very loyal patrons who have been supporting the Sustainable Futures Report for months and in many cases for years. There wouldn’t be any point without you. You help me keep the Sustainable Futures Report impartial and Anthony Day-free.

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That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

I’m Anthony Day.

I’ll be back next week.

I hope you will be too.

 

 

Sources

https://theconversation.com/climate-scientists-concept-of-net-zero-is-a-dangerous-trap-157368 

 

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